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Successful regenerative medicine will rely on the ability to use and manipulate stem cells and use them to regenerate damaged tissue. To do this effectively requires an in depth understanding of the molecular mechanisms underlying the ability of stem cells to commit to a specific lineage and provide functional specialised progeny. In part this can be achieved using embryonic stem cells (ES) that have the capacity to adopt specific cell fates in a highly controlled fashion. Understanding how ES cells make lineage decisions will facilitate our understanding of how our own physological stem cells operate to repair damaged tissue.
The ability to use a defined set of factors to reprogram any cells to adopt a stem like state has revolutionised the potential of stem cell research to provide benefit to patients. Although their are major challenges to using induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) for direct therapeutic use, patient-dervied iPSCs have enormous potential to generate cells that bear hallmarks of specific diseases and which can act as model systems for understanding the specific molecular and genetic causes of disease as well as for drug discovery.